tv review

Ted Lasso Has Done It Again

Season two delivers that signature Ted Lasso feeling, this time with a few added layers of depth. Photo: Colin Hutton

In the fifth episode of the much-anticipated second season of Ted Lasso, the members of AFC Richmond have hit a low point in their season. To buoy their spirits, as is his wont, Coach Lasso, played by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Jason Sudeikis, launches into a pep talk.

“I believe in communism,” Ted, the underdog American coach, tells his team of British footballers. “Rom-communism.” That’s a worldview, according to Ted, steeped in the principles established by the romantic comedies of the 1990s and 2000s.

“Believing in rom-communism is all about believing that everything is going to work out in the end,” Ted explains. “Now these next few months might be tricky. But that’s just because we’re going through our dark forest. Fairy tales do not start nor do they end in the dark forest. That son of a gun always shows up smack dab in the middle of a story. But it will all work out. Now it may not work out how you think it will or how you hope it does, but believe me: It will all work out, exactly as it’s supposed to.”

This entire sequence, including that speech, is Ted Lasso in miniature. It captures core elements of the show’s sensibility: its optimism, penchant for puns, and subversion of the macho bravado that has traditionally dominated shows and movies about sports. (Ted’s explanation of rom-communism sidebars into a discussion among the players of great rom-com actors. “I enjoy Renée Zellweger in all her Bridget Jones movies,” offers Toheeb Jimoh’s perpetually sincere Sam. “Her accent is pitch-perfect and her gift for physical comedy is grossly underrated.” Everyone else nods in agreement.)

Ted’s outline of the story structure in a typical rom-com–slash–fairy tale also functions as a road map for season two of Ted Lasso, which somehow manages to improve upon the charming pandemic antidepressant that was season one. These 12 new episodes, rolling out weekly beginning today, are as upbeat and sunny as expected, especially in early installments. (While it does snow in this season’s joyful Christmas episode, Ted Lasso England remains an England where the skies are remarkably clear and fog-free.) In fact, some of the ongoing story lines — including team owner/power boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) delving into online dating, and the dynamics between coupled-up Keeley (Juno Temple) and now-retired football star Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) — could have been plucked directly from a rom-com. Ted Lasso, in many ways, is itself an act of rom-communism.

But this season, to its credit, also travels through some dark forests in ways that deepen our understanding of the characters and splash some welcome drops of reality onto the niceness that has become synonymous with the show. The people who populate this inviting football realm, where encouragement and persistence are as omnipresent as penalty kicks, remain likable and worthy of championing. But showrunner Bill Lawrence, who co-developed the series with Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, a.k.a. Coach Beard, and Joe Kelly, makes a concerted effort to demonstrate how easily niceness can be either corroded or used cosmetically to cover what lies beneath.

Nathan (Nick Mohammed), the sweet and insecure recently promoted assistant coach, starts to develop an ego and show signs of arrogance in his new position, while Ted, for reasons that come into sharper focus later in the season, is disconcerted by a new team therapist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles of Catastrophe, among other British series), who’s hired to work with the players. Ted is partly rattled because Fieldstone — whose name surely must be another rom-com reference to Dr. Marcia Fieldstone, the radio therapist in Sleepless in Seattle — is initially impervious to Ted’s charms. But the whole notion of therapy makes him uncomfortable, too, a trait that highlights how much Ted’s aw-shucks pleasantries, joke-cracking, and willingness to help others enables him to forget about whatever issues may be boiling beneath his smiling mustachioed surface.

All of the more serious beats in this season of Ted Lasso are addressed in the exact proper proportion to the lighter, funnier moments so that it doesn’t feel like a different show, just one that’s added a couple layers of depth. Sudeikis is still remarkably believable as a guy whose energy and affability levels are always dialed to eleven. He’s so good at what he does that his performance does not always appear to be the tightrope walk it is actually is. Every grin, twangy joke delivery, and uplifting anecdote has the potential to swing too wide or become grating. But Sudeikis is so completely in touch with Ted that every acting choice he makes is like a breeze that catches a kite and keeps it gliding, high and steady. Only Sudeikis could say something like, “I think a fella should only take as long as the tune ‘Easy Lover’ by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey to get dressed in the morning,” and make it sound like a real thing a real person would say, and also like a life philosophy 100 percent worth adopting.

One of the beauties of this season of Ted Lasso is how much room it gives for characters other than Ted to shine. Hunt continues to drop drolleries as Coach Beard with dart-on-bull’s-eye precision, but he also shows some vulnerability, particularly as more about his on-again, off-again romance with Jane (Phoebe Walsh) is slowly revealed. In addition to Nathan, Sam gets more of a front-and-center role, especially in an episode where a corporate sponsor weighs on his conscience, proving that Jimoh has more to offer than his wide, gleaming smile. (To be clear, though: that smile is great.) Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift), the director of football operations, came off in season one as a bit cartoonish, but in this go-round is much more competent, though still goofy and often the victim of embarrassing situations entirely of his own making. There’s a running gag throughout this season in which Higgins is found working in increasingly ridiculous corners of the building after he loans his own office to Sharon.

And if you’re looking for platonic romance this season, look no further than the relationship that continues to blossom between Rebecca and Keeley, two women who mutually admire and support each other and, courtesy of Waddingham and Juno Temple, have an easy, infectious chemistry that’s lovely to absorb every time they’re side by side onscreen.

Ted Lasso is one of those shows where every ingredient comes together but, like the performances by Sudeikis and so many of the other actors, seems so effortless that you don’t notice at first how many instruments are playing in harmony. Take the scene in the first episode where Ted takes a walk on the pitch with a depressed Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández), one of his best players, and tries to get his head back in the game. The conversation, like so many in Ted Lasso, veers into pop-culture references — this time they involve the movie Magnolia and the filmography of Tom Cruise — with Beard piping in comments a few steps behind Dani and Ted. The shot is framed perfectly so that Hunt can be seen in the middle of the space between head coach and player, which primes the audience to be ready for some classic Beard-Lasso banter. It’s a perfect example of how the timing between the actors, great writing (Hunt has the credit on the episode), and direction steered by someone with a keen eye for comedy (in this case Irish filmmaker Declan Lowney) work in tandem to create a moment that’s tight, funny, and well-observed. Ted Lasso pulls off that kind of magic in scene after scene, and in episode after episode.

While Ted Lasso may be a believer in rom-communism, it manages to avoid the pitfalls that a lot of rom-coms don’t, by never becoming too cloying, too clever, or too sentimental to be believed. The show embraces optimism without feeling false. It celebrates the better angels of human nature, without flying too far into unbelievable fantasy. Anyone who appreciated season one and hits play on season two will feel the following sentiment, partly borrowed from another Tom Cruise movie, almost immediately: Wow, Ted Lasso. Once again, you have me at hello.

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Ted Lasso Has Done It Again